Americans grapple with the rise of Omicron


“Omicron has quickly turned into something different.”

Long COVID testing lines at the Mercantile Center in Worcester, Mass. David L. Ryan / The Greeley Tribune Globe

CHICAGO — With infection rates soaring, the Omicron edition has begun a new and disorienting phase of the pandemic, leaving Americans dismayed and dismayed that the basics they thought they understood about the coronavirus were at first are moving faster than ever.

The reasons for the increased anxiety and the reasons for consolation were: omicron It is more transmissible than the previous forms, yet it appears to cause mild symptoms in many people. Hospitalization has reached new highs in some states, but “emergent patients” — people who test positive for COVID-19 after being admitted for some other reason — makeup About half of their cases in some hospitals.

Public health officials, in response to the new version, have half The recommended isolation period for those testing positive ranged from 10 days to five days, while also suggesting people upgrade their masks from cloth to medical-grade.

“Omicron has quickly turned into something different,” said Chicago’s top health official, Dr. Allison Arvadi.

Between federal public health guidance and moving the new and specific version, President Joe Biden’s your pre-transition team has called on the president to adopt an entirely new domestic pandemic strategy that prepares for the “new normal” of living with the virus indefinitely, not eradicating it.

And Americans, in the face of these new sets of facts, warnings and advice, have responded with a mixture of confusion, caution and apathy. Left primarily to navigate it all on their own, they must plow through an array of uncertain risks – ride the bus? visit friends? eat inside? – Hour by hour.

Many people wonder whether they should keep their kids home from school or cancel vacations and dinners. They scramble for at-home antigen tests or appointments for sophisticated PCR tests and are abandoning cloth masks in favor of KN95s and N95s. In some cities, they have returned wearing masks even outside and are ordering grocery deliveries or stocking up on supplies to avoid trips for days to come.

Others have shrugged off the rising cases, focusing on the encouraging fact that some people who are infected with the Omicron variant suffer little more than a cough and runny nose – if they show symptoms.

While some places have maintained limits such as a ban on indoor feeding without vaccination, there is little appetite for widespread shutdowns. A restaurant owner in Austin, Texas, said customers were out and about looking forward to gathering in groups.

“It’s clear: People are over it,” said Daniel Brooks, 45, who owns two restaurants in Austin.

For the most part, American life hasn’t stopped in the latest wave—businesses remain open, and schools are largely in session—yet this edition has brought significant disruptions to daily life and threatens to bring still more Is.

Police officers, paramedics and firefighters have been isolated from the virus, affecting response times in some cities. Across the country, millions of Americans have become ill at home in recent days, ignoring debates over testing and safety measures in schools and officials who worried the public last week told them they were overstaying hospital beds and health care. The workers were running dangerously low.

“I suspect everyone in the state either has COVID just now, has today or knows someone,” said Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana. “There has never been more disease in our state.”

Omicron emerged in southern Africa in late November, and by Christmas it was the dominant form in the United States, Britain, and parts of continental Europe, including Denmark and Portugal, which have some of the highest vaccination rates in the world.

The record-high caseload, fueled by Omicron, has created its own form of chaos globally, with infections sidelined by millions of workers, prompting shortages of testing kits and prompting many governments to reimpose social restrictions. forced to. Spain, Greece and Italy ordered their citizens to return wearing masks outside; The Netherlands retreated into complete lockdown.

This version is now knocking in almost every corner of the world. India, have set up temporary COVID wards in convention halls, to tide over the tidal wave of infections with only half the population vaccinated. In Argentina Recently, the test positivity rate increased to 30%.

but with indications that the omicron wave in South Africa is retreatingMany countries have embarked on a strategy to live with the virus, choosing to keep businesses and schools open instead of risking the economic woes of more lockdowns, without causing a huge new surge of deaths.

Health officials in the United States, weary from two years of repeating similar arguments to the public, have tried to emphasize that the Omicron version is like no other phase of the pandemic.

Reported daily cases have nearly quintupled over the past month as Omicron takes hold. About 650,000 new cases are being identified every day, more than double that at the peak of last winter – a number that is certainly a low number, as it does not include many results from at-home antigen tests.

So far, hospitalizations have grown at a much slower rate than cases. But the number of coronavirus patients across the country is still rising rapidly, rising from about 67,000 a month ago to nearly 134,000. doctors in many cities SayA small proportion of COVID patients are landing in intensive care units or need mechanical ventilation, but the sheer number of patients is raising the alarm.

Deaths, which are a lagging indicator, have not increased that much yet. About 1,500 deaths from COVID-19 are being announced every day in the United States. It may be weeks, officials said, before they know whether the Omicron version will result in another major wave of deaths in the United States, where more than 830,000 people have died from the coronavirus.

Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at the University of California, Irvine, said the Omicron variant has been “legitimately complicated” for many Americans to understand, because it is clearly different from previous variants.

“Omicron is lighter than Delta, but it is more permeable,” he said. “It’s changing two things at once.”

The shifting of advice on isolation and quarantine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also left Americans with questions about the seriousness of the variant. Many employers acting on the guidance of public health officials have encouraged sick workers to return to their jobs after only five days, even without tests showing they were tested for the virus. are negative.

“The confusion has increased,” said Dr. Gil Wright, the city’s director of health in Nashville, Tennessee. “People are saying, this is going to get really bad, but can we go back to work early?”

In rural Michigan, people with symptoms of the coronavirus have rushed to hospitals in recent weeks, reiterating the conventional wisdom that once you have had COVID, you are unlikely to contract it again quickly.

“Many of them say, ‘It can’t be COVID; I just had it a few months ago,” said Dr. Mark Hamid, an emergency room physician in Sandusky, Michigan. “Look and see, they test positive.”

Roughly 62% of Americans have been fully vaccinated, a number that has barely risen in recent weeks. Even fully vaccinated and grown individuals have become infected with the Omicron type, although health officials say their infections appear less severe than those of the uninfected.

Across the country, a record number of public employees have been taken off work as a result of rising coronavirus infections, leaving officials to reassure residents that if they call 911, someone will show up – if a little less than usual. Late later.

According to department spokesman Jason Evans, in Dallas, 204 of the city’s nearly 2,100 employees of the Fire and Rescue Department were in quarantine on Thursday because of positive COVID-19 tests — the most since the start of the pandemic. He said that almost one-fourth of the department’s total positive tests since March 2020 were from the last two weeks.

Los Angeles city officials said in a news conference Thursday that about 300 firefighters were off duty because of the virus, the most at any time the department had seen. Jeff Cretton, a spokesman for San Francisco Mayor London Breed, said 140 fire department employees and 188 city police department employees had tested positive or were out because of quarantine protocols; So the transit agency of the city had 110 employees.

Balancing the competing arguments of parents, teachers and students, at times schools and colleges were facing uncertainty whether to conduct classes individually or virtually.

Last week in Chicago, the mighty teachers union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot clashed over coronavirus safety and testing in a dispute that has closed schools in the country’s third-largest school district for days.

At Rhodes College, a small liberal arts school in Memphis, Tennessee, officials announced over the holiday break that the start of in-person classes was being delayed by two weeks — a disappointment for students desperate from online classes and the college’s students. Eager for the experience he expected.

“Every semester, it seems like we’re almost back to normal, and then it’s canceled once again,” said John Howell, a senior political economy and philosophy major beginning his final semester. “It seems like every routine is going to be broken, and that’s all you should expect.”

Bishop James Dixon, senior pastor of the Community of Faith Church in Houston, said he and his fellow church leaders have found themselves struggling to strike the right balance when Omicron’s outbreak.

“No one has a definite answer,” he said. “It’s trial and error. It’s appalling. And we have to be people of faith and decide and take a direction.”

Dixon said the virus had caused fear in many circles because they now know so many people who have gotten it.

“Things are better than they are,” he said, “but at the same time they are worse because the numbers are rising.”

This article originally appeared in the new York Times,